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Beetroot Bonanza

Recipes with beetroot - root and greens

Beetroot (Beta vulgaris, Amaranthaceae)

Beetroots conjure the image of the deep red, sweet earthy tap roots of the plant which can be eaten raw, boiled, baked and roasted.

Their fresh green leaves with beautiful bright pink stalks are also edible and taste wonderful in a salad, stir fries or mixed with dough to make chappatis (Indian flatbread). The leaves taste like chard or spinach and the roots give a beautiful earthy sweetness, especially when cooked.


In Ayurveda, the beetroot is appreciated for its warming properties. Although high in sugar, it is said to release its natural sugars slowly, preventing spikes. Full of antioxidants called betacyanins, they are full of goodness for the heart, liver, blood and meant to be anti-inflammatory. There’s a theory that they help prevent dementia by increasing blood flow to the brain and are also valued for their anti-carcinogenic properties. The greens are even more nutritious and packed with vitamins that are good for the skin and eyes, among other things.

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Beauty uses

Besides the obvious improvements to your blood and skin that helps you look better, beets can also be used in some home beauty treatments. They stain anything a bright pink – so adding small amount of grated beetroot to your facemask will help you have a healthy pink glow. When I was young and lived in India, I used henna to colour my hair. I have added beetroot to this henna mixture to give my hair a burgundy finish. It is messy though – and can stain your clothes if you are not careful. It’s said that during the mid-1940s, women often used a little bit of beetroot mixed with Vaseline to colour their lips and look glamorous without lipstick. This maybe a good thing to replicate in 2020 during quarantine.


When I was young, I never liked sweet vegetables. Beetroot was definitely not on my favourites list. That is, until my mother made me a special South Indian beetroot salad. Raw beetroot that was peeled and grated, mixed with fresh coriander, lime juice and salt and topped with a spluttering (tadka) of mustard seeds, green chillies and asafoetida. I loved this sweet, tangy salad with a variety of dishes. And my mother always taught me that the colour of the vegetable made it a very healthy one, full of antioxidants. So I could doubly enjoy indulging in it. I have since experimented a lot with the vegetable and am sharing three of my favourites here.

Beetroot in tamarind sauce (Beetroot Vatthakuzhambu)

In the south, tamarind is often used to give food a deep tangy taste. This is a typical south Indian sauce that is served with rice and vegetables. I have added beetroot to give it an earthy sweetness that goes really well with the spice and tamarind. It’s called vatthakuzhambu which can sound pretty unpronounceable if you’re not well versed in Tamil. Kuzhambu means sauce and vatthal stands for the dried berries that are used to give it a characteristic and slightly bitter flavour. I’d call it umami on steroids.

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  • Sesame oil (untoasted): 1.5 tbsp
  • Urad dal: 1 tbsp
  • Toor dal: 1 tbsp
  • Mustard seeds: 1.5 tsp
  • Curry leaves: 5-6
  • Dried Indian turkey berries (Sundakkai): 1 tbsp
  • Baby onions: 8-10 tiny ones
  • Beetroot: 1, washed, peeled and cubed
  • Tamarind concentrate: 1.5 tbsp
  • Vatthakuzhambu powder or sambar powder:  1.5 tbsp
  • Salt: to taste
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  • I use a traditional South Indian stone pot to make this but you can use a saucepan instead
  • Heat the oil in the pan or pot and splutter the mustard seeds
  • Add the dals and brown slightly before adding the turkey berries and curry leaves
  • Add the onions and fry for 4-5 mins, stirring well
  • Add the cubed beetroot and fry for a few more minutes
  • Add a cup of water, tamarind concentrate and spice powder, mix well
  • Add salt to taste and simmer for 15 mins or so, it should thicken slightly but still be liquid
  • Adjust seasoning and serve with rice and vegetables.

Beetroot greens with a spiced crumble (Usili)

Paruppu usili (Lentil crumble) is a firm Tamil favourite. It’s made by grinding soaked lentils with chillies and cooking and crumbling this paste with a variety of vegetables. My mum used to make this with beans or spinach or coriander. I live near an organic farm and am lucky enough to get fresh carrots and beetroots with their greens. I have cooked this dish with both types of greens – delicious!

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  • Toor dal: 2 teacups
  • Dry red chilli: 2
  • Green chilli: 2
  • Curry leaves: 8-10
  • Asafoetida: 1/4 tsp (preferably solid)
  • Sesame oil: 4-5 tbsp
  • Beetroot greens, finely chopped: 2 teacups, packed
  • Salt to taste
  • Mustard seeds: 1 tsp
  • Urad dal: 1 tbsp


  • Soak the dal for 2-3 hours
  • Drain and grind the dal with very little water, asafoetida, red and green chillies, salt and curry leaves to a coarse paste
  • (If you prefer, you can steam the dal mix in an idli mould for 5 minutes but I use a little extra oil and cook it straight in the wok, using a lid to cook it)
  • Heat the sesame oil in the wok and splutter the mustard seeds. Add the urad dal and fry till pinkish brown
  • Turn the heat down lower and add the dal mixture, let it cook and brown underneath before you carefully turn over (takes 4-5 mins). You need sufficient oil in the pan to ensure it doesnt stick. If you prefer to use less oil, try steaming first before frying.
  • Before the dal is fully cooked on both sides, add the chopped greens. Fresh greens dont need much time to cook, so add it towards the end but before the crumble is fully cooked.
  • Mix well and close the lid for a minute to finish cooking. Adjust for seasoning.
  • Serve with rice, ghee and a sauce luke sambhar, rasam or vattakuzhambu

Beetroot greens and dal

I was taught about the goodness of green leafy vegetables when I was very young and I really enjoyed their taste, especially when lightly stir-fried with coconut oil. This is a recipe that my mother used to make with spinach but it tastes even better with fresh beetroot green, which, as we know, has even more goodness to offer than the roots themselves. The addition of fresh coconut makes it taste fresh and light.

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Beetroot greens (leaves and stalks), chopped finely: 3 cups
Mung dal: 1/2 cup
Turmeric (optional): pinch
Chillies: 1, finely chopped
Coconut oil: 1.5 Tbsp
Mustard seeds: 1 Tsp
Urad Dal: 1 Tbsp
Fresh grated coconut (optional): 1 Tbsp
Salt: to taste


  • Clean and chop the beetroot greens. You can replace this with chard or spinach if you like.
  • Heat a cup of water, add the mung dal, turmeric and cook for a few minutes. Keep an eye on it - the dal should not overcook and should keep it's shape. Drain and keep aside.
  • Heat the coconut oil in a wok and add the mustard seeds.
  • When they splutter, add the Urad Dal and let it turn pink.
  • Add the chillies, drained Mung Dal and the greens. Season with salt.
  • Mix well and cook covered for 3-4 minutes under low heat.
  • Remove from heat and garnish with fresh coconut.